Cook County recently announced plans to install twenty new red-light cameras throughout the Chicago suburbs, in what the County Board describes as a one-year pilot program. The suburbs targeted to receive these new cameras, however, are protesting and considering legal action. Our Chicago car accident lawyers believe this chain of events engenders many questions: Why is the County doing this? Why are the suburbs protesting? And does all of this really make Chicago-area drivers any safer?
We have been following this story with great interest. Although red-light cameras are increasingly popular with various levels of government, the most recent data shows that they do not make intersections safer. Indeed, it now appears that the opposite may be true. So why install more? The answer is simple: the almighty dollar.
The University of Illinois at Chicago recently performed a comprehensive analysis of accidents at Chicago intersections, including the 188 Chicago intersections with red-light cameras. The study was based on data from the Illinois Department of transportation, and was performed by comparing accident data from the year before the Chicago red-light cameras were installed, and the year after.
What the UIC researchers found will not shock intelligent observers, but is certainly shocking in light of Cook County’s hunger for more cameras: although accidents in the Chicago area decreased overall, there has been no decrease in car accidents at intersections with red-light cameras. Indeed, at area intersections where a red-light camera was installed, accidents have actually increased by five percent. UIC Assistant Professor Rajiv Shah, discussing the study, summed up the importance of the data. “The clearest thing is the red light cameras have not changed driving behavior in any significant pattern.”
So, why the continued interest in red-light cameras? Chicago-area governments would have you believe that they are only concerned with your safety. Even after the UIC study was made public, the Chicago Department of Transportation continued to insist that red-light cameras increase public safety. The CDOT has publicly stated that the UIC study was flawed, because it included data on accidents that occurred up to 250 feet from the center of the intersection. The CDOT states that it is conducting its own analysis, using a much more limited definition of an “intersection,” and that its “preliminary analysis” shows a twenty percent reduction in crashes at intersections with cameras. That must be a narrow definition indeed.
So why does Cook County want to install new cameras? Anyone who has been following the County’s recent budget woes should easily answer that question. Our Chicago personal injury attorneys know that red-light cameras mean big bucks for those who install them, plain and simple. If you think that this is an overly cynical view, consider the following: the county has already budgeted for a minimum of $2 million in revenue from the twenty proposed cameras. And the City of Chicago collected around $109 million from red-light camera revenues between 2003, when it began installing the cameras, through 2008 – with about $44 million of that coming in 2008 alone.
The greed associated with these cameras is not limited to the County Board. FOX Chicago News reported early in 2010 that yellow lights at Chicago intersections with red-light cameras (installed by the City) had been set shorter – and even failed to meet the federally-required minimum of three seconds in length. You don’t need a traffic expert to tell you that shortening the length of a yellow light is not a move designed to increase safety. This action is designed to catch more drivers, and increase the revenue from red-light cameras.
It remains to be seen whether the Chicago suburbs will be successful in their fight to keep the Cook County Board from installing red-light cameras within suburban municipalities. But our Chicago car crash lawyers believe that such cameras will be installed in any event. What the current fight will determine is who will install them, and thus who will receive the revenue.
While suburban residents may believe that their municipal governments are fighting to keep such cameras out, the fact remains that none of these governments have stated a blanket opposition to red-light cameras, or even championed the UIC’s safety data. Instead, they have simply insisted that the County Board does not have the authority to install the cameras, because the municipalities police the roads. If they win that battle, expect to see the suburbs themselves install cameras in the near future.
After all, red-light cameras are now big business.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.